Description: Lamb Holm, the Italian Chapel, (roman Catholic), Including Statue
Date Listed: 4 June 1987
Historic Scotland Building ID: 12728
OS Grid Coordinates: 348829, 1000628
Latitude/Longitude: 58.8899, -2.8895
Domenico Chiocchetti and others, 1942-4. Single storey, gable-fronted chapel comprising 2 Nissen huts arranged end-to-end, with pedimented entrance porch, bellcote breaking gable apex and fleur-de-lys pinnacled buttresses. Cement render over corrugated-iron. Base course; pointed-arched pendant band to gable and around plain terminal buttresses; crocketted skews.
E (PRINCIPAL, ENTRANCE) ELEVATION: Doric columns supporting pediment bearing red clay roundel depicting the head of Christ; Doric pilasters flanking deep-set boarded door; mosaic date panel to entrance, 'A D MCMXLIV'; pointed-arched bellcote with wrought-iron balustrade below crocketted pediment; cast-iron Celtic cross to gablehead above. Pointed arched narrow windows flanking door.
N AND S (SIDE) ELEVATIONS: long, 2-bay elevations: evenly disposed flat-roofed dormer in each bay.
Fixed timber-framed windows with painted glass. Modern felt barrel vaulted roof.
INTERIOR: elaborately painted nave and sanctuary, by Chiocchetti and others (see Notes), separated by triple-arched wrought-iron screen by Palumbo. Nave: lined with plasterboard, painted as brickwork; area around E windows painted as plaster fields infilled with gothic trefoil arches and motifs; gothic roundels to ceiling; door and windows to E end flanked by painted, vine-covered columns and imitation carved stone panels. Dado: painted as imitation carved stone panels. Sanctuary: elaborated decorated by Domenico Chiocchetti. Madonna and Child altarpiece copied from Nicolo Barabino (1832-1891; painted glass windows flanking, to the right depicting St Francis of Assisi, on the left St Catherine of Siena; vault ceiling painted as fielded plasterwork through which can be seen a celestial sky; painted trefoil 'niches' depicting the four evangelists with 2 full-length cherubim and seraphim below. Lined cement floor; moulded concrete altar, altar-rail, font and holy water stoop; 14 timber carved stations of the cross (gifted 1964; see Notes); gold sanctuary curtains; purpose-made iron and brass canelabra; timber tabernacle.
STATUE: cement statue of St George slaying the dragon, raised on painted, panelled and corniced rectangular-plan plinth sited to W of chapel entrance, einscribed, 'D di C, ITALIANI, Li 7-8-1943.
3RD S A, (1953) p 64; Chapel Preservation Committee, ORKNEY'S ITALIAN CHAPEL (circa 1970); L Burgher, ORKNEY, AN ILLUSTRATED ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE (1991), p 61; Kirkwall Archives, D31/27; The Independent, November 1991; A Ritchie, ORKNEY (1996) p 48.
One of Orkney's most important surviving structures from the Second World War, the Italian Chapel is the only relic of Camp 60 which housed several hundred Italian prisoners. These men, captured during the North African campaign, were sent to Orkney to work on the Churchill Barriers. The Italians, led by the particularly artistic Domenico Chiocchetti, brightened their otherwise drab surroundings by planting the area with flowers, and embellishing the 'square' with a barbed wire and cement-covered statue of St George. With the permission of a new commandant, Major T P Buckland, and the encouragement of the padre, Father P Gioachino Giacobazzi, Chioccetti masterminded the creation of a Roman Catholic chapel to fulfil the spiritual requirements of the prisoners. In 1943 two Nissen huts were made available to the prisoners and Chiocchetti enlisted the help of several comrades to help him transform it. Prominent among these men were Bruttapasta, a cement worker; Palumbo, a smith; Primavera and Micheloni, electricians; Barcaglioni, Batto, Devitto, Fornaiser, Pennisi, Sforza and others. All were deft at utilising second-hand and mostly scrap materials to make their chapel, the timber for the tabernacle being salvaged from a wrecked ship. The gold curtains for the sanctuary were purchased from a firm in Exeter and paid for from the prisoners' welfare fund. Chiocchetti began work on the sanctuary, which, having been completed, rendered the remainder of the chapel somewhat dull. Consequently, a decoration scheme for the nave and the east end was commenced. The elaborate design involved painting the entire chapel in imitation brickwork and carved stone, a task too large for one man so a painter from another camp was sent to work under Chiocchetti's direction. The facade was constructed after the interior had been decorated and finally a thick coat of cement was applied to cover the unsightly corrugated-iron.
After the war, in July 1958, with only the chapel and the statue remaining of Camp 60, a preservation committee was set up to ensure a future for the now famous chapel. In 1960 Domenico Chiocchetti was traced to Moena, a village in the Dolomites and returned to Orkney for three weeks to embark on a restoration programme. With the assistance of Mr Stanley of Kirkwall, the paintwork was restored and major repairs were undertaken. In 1961 the carved figure of Christ, which stands to the right of the chapel entrance, was gifted to the island by the citizens of Chiocchetti's home town, Moena; the cross and canopy were made in Kirkwall from detailed instructions sent by Signor Chiocchetti to the preservation committee. In 1964, Chiocchetti again visited the chapel, and his wife Maria made a gift of the 14 carved timber stations of the cross. In 1992, fifty years after they first arrived on the island a group of eight former prisoners (this time excluding Chiocchetti) returned to the chapel and Mass was again celebrated.
Source: Historic Scotland
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.